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UWC Launches Pioneering Centre to Revitalise IsiXhosa Teaching and Literacy

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) hosted the inspiring launch of the new Centre for African Language Teaching (CALT) to promote and develop literacy in isiXhosa, the second most spoken language in South Africa.

CALT will focus on enhancing teacher training and the development of isiXhosa reading (literacy) instructional resources, especially in the B.Ed Foundation Phase curriculum. The centre is a collaboration between UWC’s Faculty of Education and three partner universities – Fort Hare, Rhodes and Walter Sisulu – and is funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (HDET) and the European Union (EU).

The centre is located in the Language Education Department and is co-ordinated by Thembisa Kosi, a lecturer specialising in the Foundation Phase of the Bachelor of Education (BEd) program, who oversee the presentation and exposition of the tangible outcomes and scholarly outputs as required by the DHET and the EU.

 The launch earlier this month brought together esteemed dignitaries, academics and educators who are committed to addressing the current shortfalls in African language teaching. Despite frustration over past failures, there was great optimism that CALT represents a turning point for isiXhosa literacy.

CALT aims to increase expertise in isiXhosa teaching methods, develop more Foundation Phase materials, promote research and interaction between educators, and ultimately improve literacy rates.

UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, emphasised that CALT “will strengthen and nurture isiXhosa through collaboration. This shows what we can achieve when we join forces to enrich and preserve our heritage. This project, made possible by HDET and the European Union, will strengthen and nurture isiXhosa”. 

 UWC Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, Professor Vivienne Lawack, expressed her excitement about the centre’s launch. “I love it when a plan comes together. I take it back to the importance of positioning this centre within the academic property. It’s time to conceptualise a new kind of education. There are different pieces of the puzzle coming together as we teach the importance of  mother tongue and how to bring the arts into this space too.’’

 CALT-UWC was initiated by former Dean of the Faculty of Education Professor Vuyokazi Nomlomo, the current Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Zululand. Prof Nomlomo explained how the urgency for CALT and its goals were compounded by a number of factors, including:

·  A lack of expertise in teaching and learning literacy in African languages. Many of those involved are not experienced in Foundation Phase, which is an issue. 

·  Prevalent reliance on European pedagogies – in spite of the knowledge of the benefit of home languages.

·  Shortage of materials in home languages – including for teacher education.

·  Limited interaction and collaboration among educators, especially those who specialise in this field. 

·  Lack of research and scholarship – still suffering in that area

·  Alarming literacy rates, especially in rural areas and in townships. 

 “The birth of the Centre reflects the vision, inspiration and unwavering commitment to addressing the challenges we face in education today,” she said.

In his talk, Successes, Challenges and Prospects for Early Reading in African Languages, keynote speaker Dr Brian Ramadiro strived to remain upbeat, but there was no denying the litany of challenges and failures that have put South Africa into a poor position where four out of five Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning. 

‘’We need nonfiction that is targeted at young children, and we just don’t have it,” said Dr Ramadiro. ‘’And where materials have been developed, they don’t seem to get into the classrooms. It’s still an issue in South Africa.

 “The list of problems is long, but they can be addressed by using home language as a lever through well-targeted teacher development and collaborations for a shared pedagogy. There is no magic bullet, “he said. 

 Dr Sindiswa Stofile of the Faculty of Education called on teachers to “stop complaining, find solutions for the issues and address them.” Professor Rajendran Govender, the current Dean of the Faculty of Education at UWC, echoed her sentiments and said CALT can be the “4×4” vehicle enabling solutions to literacy problems. This day is evidence that we have reached a milestone for CALT”.

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